(In the last article Kuyper began a discussion concerning reformation by means of separation from the denomination. He suggested, in this connection, two possibilities: one possibility is that the consistory of a local congregation is in conflict with the church federation; the other is that an individual is in conflict with the church federation. Kuyper now proposes to discuss these two possibilities separately.)
An individual who comes into conflict with the church federation can be either a common member of the church or a person who is in a certain office or in a certain ministry connected to the church.
Common members can come into conflict with the church federation in two ways: because they act contrary to a certain rule laid upon the churches by the church federation, or because they are wronged by the church federation in an appeal to a broader gathering.
If you take the first instance and if such a member is branded as an “opposer of ecclesiastical ordinances,” then the church federation can either look through its fingers and let the irregularity take its course, or it can demand that the opponent cease from his unlawful action. If the opponent gives in to this, then the matter is ended. But if he, out of obedience to the Word of God, considers it impossible to give in and carries .on his case, then the church federation will discipline him and will try to make him submit. The means which the church federation will use to do this are: 1) denial of eligibility for ecclesiastical offices and positions; 2) denial of the use of sacraments; 3) suspension from membership; 4) finally, excommunication.
The one who “resists,” convinced that he may concede nothing, continues to press his case even though discipline after discipline comes upon him. And when the sacraments are denied him, e.g., he continues to go to the sacraments.¹
This places the consistory before the question whether it will help to punish the one who resists or, shrinking back from this, will refuse to execute the punishment laid upon him. If the last happens, then the conflict passes over from the individual person to the consistory and we will discuss this possibility later. But if the consistory does the first and assists in punishing the one who resists ecclesiastical regulations by withholding the means of grace, then the conflict climaxes against the individual who is unrighteously condemned and the conflict is between the individual and the ecclesiastical federation which desires to force him to do its will.
In such a case, it would be irresponsible for such a person to submit. This would be a departure from his former faithfulness. And nothing would remain for him but to come to the sacraments and, if these are denied him by force, to institute with likeminded people their own administration of the means of grace. Or, if there are no likeminded people, he must seek in another church what his own withholds from him.
If this leads to his excommunication, then he need not consider himself as excommunicated from the church. But the obligation does rest upon him to proceed with a new organization in his church and, without outward show or desire for scandal, in the fear of God, to labor for it because he longs for the pure administration of the means of grace for himself, his own, and those who stand with him.
The second possible case is when he comes into conflict with the church federation by the decision of a broader gathering. This can happen when either he himself appeals against a decision of his consistory, or when his consistory agrees with him, but then another person appeals against this decision of the consistory.
Actually, however, it comes down to the same things, and the progress of the conflict will coincide with the progress we mentioned above. Either he will submit himself to the sentence and then no conflict exists any more; or, if he cannot submit, then the church federation might drop the case; or if it comes at last to excommunication, then he is under the same obligation as we described above, i.e., he must take independent action. Actually, conflict between common members and the church federation brings up the question of a break with the church as such, the reason why we postpone further discussion of this sort of conflict to the following paragraph.
In the meantime, it remains for us, before we come to the question of the conflict of consistory and church federation, to discuss the unusual conflict which arises not from the common members, but from persons in ecclesiastical offices.
This kind of conflict is of a more serious kind. Discipline of common members is less damaging, and common members are subject to less discipline. Excommunication of common members almost never occurs. A certain shame joined with an awareness of helplessness usually prevents ecclesiastical men from persecuting anyone with spiritual punishments or from punishing them with banishment when nothing else is to be charged to them than that they are zealous for the honor of God. But the matter is qui-te different if the opponent is an office bearer or some ecclesiastical person. Then there is much more of his influence to fear and the church federation has in its power much more powerful means to punish him. He who is in office an be suspended from that office or set out of that office. The same holds for nonofficial positions in the church. A supervisor who wants no part of ungodliness can give much trouble to the church federation, but the church federation can also take away from that supervisor his membership. A janitor, a precentor, an organist, who will not slavishly go along with the church, can be punished with regard to his daily bread. This can also be done to religious teachers who are considered trouble-makers. And, with respect to offices, what is easier than to remove on high authority a deacon or elder who dares to test the ecclesiastical ordinances with God’s Word? But what ought to stand on the foreground is the seriousness of a conflict between a church federation and a minister. All other conflicts reach their apex in this. This is true on the one hand because of the powerful influence which a minister exercises and because of the public nature of his actions. But this is also true on the other hand because the church federation can attack him directly and set him outside his office and work, yes, out of his house and goods and money.
It is from this kind of conflict that almost all thoroughgoing reformations are born, and the reason is clear why right here the highest moral power becomes manifest.
A common member of the congregation can allow himself to be cut off without really having wrestled with his God, perhaps even in an insolent way. And, having been cut off, he remains what he always was. Especially today the accompanying suffering amounts to almost nothing.
For a supervisor or janitor, for an elder or deacon, to be deposed is most disagreeable, although in the end he is not ruined. A supervisor loses a certain monetary influence. A janitor loses a very small part of his earnings. And an elder or deacon returns to ordinary life without having lost what the world considers desirable.
But this is entirely different for the preacher. For a minister of the Word excommunication is nothing less than being cut off from his life’s position, a taking away of his sphere of work, a deprivation of the whole of his existence, and that with the goad behind it either to be unfaithfully silent, or to continue teaching. But then he will have to continue the conflict in a new way of suffering. Think of Kohlbrugge, what that way of suffering cost him.
On that basis we say that there is a much higher grace demanded from the minister of the Word to remain faithful in such a conflict than from a common member or elder. The moral triumph over flesh and sin must be so much stronger in the minister. His readiness to serve his Lord so much more invincible, his desire for obedience so much stronger his willingness to make sacrifices must shine so much more brightly.
Common members and also elders who are so ready to complain about the unfaithfulness of our ministers must also ask themselves once if they would be found as faithful if their whole life’s position, yes, the bread of their wives and children were at stake.
But, on the other hand, one must then also be zealous in prayers whether God might be pleased to pour out this overflowing grace in the heart of many ministers of the Word, to break in them the temptation of false reasoning with which they justify themselves, and thus to give to the church of Christ those natural leaders for its reformation without whose leadership and cooperation the reformation of a church rarely succeed. And if the prayer is heard, then also the extraordinary measure of moral courage and faith which develops in the ministers shall give to their words such a fervor and to their appearance such a power that the opposition in the church federation succumbs of itself.
Only through the spiritual awakening of the ministers of the Word can a church be saved; but also only by the passivity of ministers a hostile church federation remains strong.
The consequence of a conflict between ministers and a church federation is always very serious. It is serious in a tragic sense when a minister of the Word, after a moment of zeal, again lays his head in the bosom, gives in, and thus the work of God which he undertook is abandoned.
It is serious in its direct consequences, This is true because a minister who is suspended must in such a case continue to preach in the church. Or if this cannot be, then he must preach outside the church. And if he is excommunicated, then he must gather the faithful to himself and preach the Word, if necessary, in a stable or barn, from a shipdeck or in an open field.
Having come to this point, this conflict can also very easily lead to a break with the church itself, even as the consequences of the conflict between common members and the church federation spoken of in the following paragraph.
¹ In the following paragraph Kuyper says that in this way the matter is brought before the consistory and the consistory is in this way forced to deal with the question. It is probably more in keeping with Reformed church polity, however, for the individual to submit rather than to force the issue by going to the sacraments even when they are denied him. He can bring the matter to the consistory by way of protest and appeal.